Tag Archives: Robert Rodriguez

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking Alita: Battle Angel to be a new movie by James Cameron. It gives off his scent in more ways than one, but primarily in the union of completely gangbusters special effects and a completely lackluster script. Cameron’s credited as a producer, though, not that the title of “producer” can actually ever have one single definition. Based on the manga series Battle Angel Alita, the film adaptation is in actuality directed by Mexico Trilogy and Sin City helmer Robert Rodriguez, the guy who once claimed his approach as “Mariachi-style” — in which “creativity, not money, is used to solve problems.” There’s an immediate discordance between that approach and the mere notion of James “Titanic” Cameron, and Alita very clearly exhibits the latter’s big-budget sensibility at the expense of an underdog’s incumbent creativity.

Which is a shame, because that’s ostensibly what Alita is about. The title character (played by Rosa Salazar) is a spunky cyborg with a mysterious past, brought back to life by kindhearted scientist Ido (Christoph Waltz) in a war-torn world all but discarded by the elite who reside on a giant floating city in the sky. “Lower” and “upper” class are literalized, and promise of ascension to that higher world is enough leverage to get anyone to do anything. The setup is nearly verbatim to that of Elysium, with an impending reckoning between the rough-and-tumble Earth-dwellers and those nasty domineers above. But the reckoning never happens, despite a colossal amount of exposition pointing in that direction, and apart from a useless cameo (more on that in a second) we never even glimpse one of those nasty domineers.

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Jailbreakers (1994)

You know Frank Miller, right? The comic book guy. No, you’re thinking of Alan Moore. Yeah, that’s right, the 300 guy. He’s done other stuff, though, far better stuff, like Sin City and Ronin and a fantastic run on Daredevil. He did the Daredevil book Born Again and the Batman books The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, all of which might legally be deemed works of genius. For a while he was one of the masters. Then, as so often happens with young artists who garner those labels — “genius” and “master” — Miller produced a string of decidedly less-than-masterful works that included the lukewarm Returns sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again and another Batman book called All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder; the latter is largely derided for the portrayal of Batman as a psychotic child-abuser, which is a new one. There are a few more stinkers, but they all get the pass in comparison to Miller’s latest book (ahem, “book”): Holy Terror. This is a story (ahem, “story”) so undercooked that it makes one wonder if Miller forgot to turn the oven on altogether. It’s somehow impossibly offensive and impossibly dull at the same time. Holy Terror is without a doubt Frank Miller’s most abominable creation, and unfortunately that’s saying something.

William Friedkin isn’t exactly the Frank Miller of film, but if he was, Jailbreakers would be his Holy Terror. The fact is that the Frank Miller of film is Frank Miller himself, who helmed his Sin City in 2005 and followed it with the increasingly awful The Spirit and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. But Friedkin, for a time, had a career in cinema that seemed to be following the hugely disappointing formula that Miller’s laid in comics. For an exhaustive breakdown of the early struggle, the well-earned rise, the questionable fall, the lull, and the eventual redemption of the director known as William Friedkin, I highly recommend this piece by Dissolve‘s Noel Murray. In fact, Dissolve‘s entire Career View column is highly recommended. In fact, Dissolve‘s entire catalog is highly recommended.

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Desperado (1995)

As an avid guitarist, there’s a special place in my cold and shriveled little heart for the opening credits scene of Desperado. There are hundreds of popular movies about guitarists, some of which are really great (like Sweet and Lowdown and School of Rock) and some of which are really not (like Rock Star and Crossroads…wait, that’s the Britney Spears one). In the pantheon of Guitar Flicks — which, by the way, should totally be a genre on its own — Desperado might be close to the top, but it certainly isn’t the best movie available. Still, there’s something unique about the way Robert Rodriguez treats the guitar, and something especially mystical about that credit sequence.

Rodriguez’s entire Mexico Trilogy follows the same guitar-playing assassin, and there are probably arguments to be made for Desperado not even being the greatest entry in its own trilogy. While 1992’s El Mariachi was definitely improved upon in subsequent entries with the recasting of Antonio Banderas as El, Rodriguez’s debut feature still plays well as a standalone opener and a part of the larger trilogy. It’s without a doubt the most “realistic” depiction of a guitarist (at least at the beginning), and El’s attempt at finding a gig in the local saloon is probably one of the most gratifying scenes for any musician who’s spent time attempting the same.

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